Brain training is a popular way to keep the gray cells ticking, hopefully providing a way to stave off neurodegenerative conditions such as dementia. Now it seems that the benefits may not just be cognitive. One new study suggests that brain training can also improve physical wellbeing, specifically by reducing the risk of falls.
Falls are one of the great dangers of old age. Most people experience some decline in balance, mobility and muscle strength as they grow older, with many developing other medical conditions, such as arthritis, that can worsen the impact. Poor eyesight can be a factor, as can cognitive deterioration.
Side effects from falls can be complex. Strains, sprains and broken bones will be slower to heal than in youth and may cause ongoing pain. Head injuries in particular can have serious long-term consequences. Then there is the fear of falling that can lead people to stay home, cutting themselves off from friends and family or refusing to try even the gentlest exercise.
Anything that can reduce the risk of falling is welcome. This particular research came from the ACTIVE study and involved more than 2000 participants, divided into separate groups for speed of processing, memory or reasoning (as well as a control group). Each participant spent an hour at a time on a special brain training app, conducting two sessions a week for five weeks.
Researchers examined ten years of data to determine the frequency of falls. Participants were assessed as low risk or high risk. Low-risk participants didn’t see much change in their rate of falls, regardless of whether they participated in brain training. High-risk participants in the speed of processing group, however, were 31% less likely to fall than those in the control group.
These results are consistent with previous research into how the brain’s rate of processing impacts our likelihood of falling. As the brain loses speed as we grow older, our reaction times slow. We are less able to respond to obstacles or the realization that our footing is unstable. This means we don’t have as much time to try to avoid danger or regain our balance.
Brain training already shows numerous benefits to aging people. It is also relatively simple and not too time-consuming. Brain HQ, the app used in the study, can be tried for free. It may be worth giving it a chance.